The Arc Condemns Family Separations at U.S.-Mexico Border; Calls on Congress to Act

Washington, DC – The Arc released the following statement in response to the forced immigrant family separations that are occurring at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“The Arc stands with the immigrant community and the many organizations and individuals that have come out in opposition to this abhorrent practice,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc. “The notion of uniformed, federal border protection agents forcibly separating parents from their children is outrageous. Family separations are extremely traumatizing and damaging to children, and none are more affected than children with disabilities, who rely on their loved ones for care, security, and support.”

The practice of forcibly separating children from their parents can cause irreparable harm in a child’s development, resulting in disability. As noted by the American Academy of Pediatrics regarding these forced family separations, “In fact, highly stressful experiences, like family separation, can cause irreparable harm, disrupting a child’s brain architecture and affecting his or her short- and long-term health. This type of prolonged exposure to serious stress – known as toxic stress – can carry lifelong consequences for children.”

The Arc’s Berns further noted: “The Arc condemns the cruel and inhumane immigration practices which the Trump Administration has stated are being carried out in accordance with existing immigration policies and laws. However, this explanation rings hollow. Nothing in the law requires the children to be ripped away from their families. This is, quite simply, a choice that has been made by the Administration which is both punitive and contrary to basic human decency.

“How many children have already had the protection, security, and love of their parents stripped away, and how many more face the same fate? As a nation founded by immigrants, we and our elected representatives at the state and federal levels should be outraged by this practice. We call upon President Trump to immediately halt these cruel practices, and we call upon Congress to take action to ensure that such Administrative practices are permanently prohibited.”

The Arc Responds to Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Ruling in Bobby Moore Case

Washington, DC – Earlier this week, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) ruled that Bobby Moore did not have intellectual disability and could, therefore, be executed in Texas. The 5-3 CCA decision ignored the request of State prosecutors who—in light of last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Moore v. Texas—urged the CCA to find that Mr. Moore did meet the criteria for intellectual disability and should therefore have his sentence commuted to life in prison rather than be subject to the death penalty in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment. 

“The facts in this case are clear—so much so that prosecutors acknowledged that Mr. Moore met the criteria for intellectual disability following the Supreme Court’s decision—and Mr. Moore should therefore be protected by Supreme Court decisions that ban the execution of persons with intellectual disability as cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment.  The Arc will continue fighting for the rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and in the aftermath of this case we will only increase our legal advocacy efforts to ensure that the Supreme Court’s decisions are upheld and justice is appropriately served,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the CCA’s prior decision finding that Mr. Moore did not meet the criteria for intellectual disability and could be executed based on its use of stereotypical and outdated factors—instead of well-established clinical standards—to determine intellectual disability in death penalty cases. Judge Elsa Alcala who authored the CCA’s dissenting opinion this week, issued a strong rebuke to the majority: “this Court has set forth an unconstitutional standard for intellectual disability that continues to permit consideration of wholly subjective, non-clinical factors and stereotypes…This Court’s approach…is eerily reminiscent of the seven Briseno factors that were held to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.”

The Arc of the United States and The Arc of Texas filed an amicus brief with the CCA in support of Mr. Moore, joining a broad range of prominent entities and individuals with diverse perspectives and views on the death penalty who filed briefs urging the CCA to grant relief for Mr. Moore. The Arc’s amicus brief noted that the framework established by the Supreme Court requiring courts to consult clinical standards in making intellectual disability determinations in death penalty cases laid a sound foundation for the CCA to determine that Mr. Moore meets the criteria for intellectual disability and cannot be executed.

In her dissent, Judge Alcala cited The Arc’s amicus brief, noting that it “correctly observe[s] that ‘there is a wide gap between the clinical definition and expectations that many laypeople have about intellectual disability…these ‘common misimpressions include beliefs that people with intellectual disability are essentially identical to one another and that all are incapable of any but the most rudimentary tasks.’”

In its 2002 decision in Atkins v. Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the special risk of wrongful execution faced by persons with ID and banned the execution of persons with ID as cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. Subsequently, in Hall v. Florida (2014), the Court rejected an arbitrary cutoff for IQ scores in making the intellectual disability determination and emphasized the importance of courts consulting clinical standards in their analysis. Most recently, in Moore v. Texas (2017), the Court rejected Texas’ use of stereotypical and outdated factors—rather than well-established clinical standards—to determine intellectual disability in death penalty cases on the grounds that they “create an unacceptable risk that persons with intellectual disability will be executed.”
The Arc has deep sympathy for the family and friends of the victim in this case, and we supported appropriate punishment of all responsible parties. The Arc did not seek to eliminate punishment of Mr. Moore or others with disabilities, but rather, to ensure that justice is served and the rights of all parties are protected. The Arc is committed to seeking lawful outcomes for people with ID and will continue working to ensure that the U.S. Supreme Court rulings on this issue are abided by in jurisdictions across the country.

The Arc advocates for and serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, cerebral palsy and other diagnoses. The Arc has a network of nearly 650 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with I/DD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes and without regard to diagnosis.

The Stage is Set for the Next Threats to the Civil Rights of People with Disabilities with President Trump’s Latest Executive Order

Washington, DC – The Arc released the following statement in response to the Trump Administration’s “Executive Order on Economic Mobility”:

“Over the last year, people with disabilities, their families, and other advocates have fought again and again against overt attacks on access to health care and supports and services that make life in the community possible.

“After failing to decimate Medicaid, this Administration announced this week that it intends to open up a new front in this effort – one that aims right at those most in need, the poorest in our country, who have the most to lose.

“If you read between the lines of this executive order, it is a blueprint for sweeping changes that penalize people who are unemployed, across multiple programs. From Medicaid, to housing, to food assistance and other programs – this will result in new barriers to eligibility and denial of critical services. The call for increased economic opportunity is not backed up with provision of tools for individuals to succeed.

“We fundamentally disagree with the notion in here that some eligible people are more ‘deserving’ of benefits than others. This is also part of a pattern. From an Administration budget request that would have been devastating to people with disabilities, to a state by state effort to cut people off Medicaid, to a tax law that jeopardizes critical programs, we are still in the fight of our lives and remain ready to advocate for the civil rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.
The Arc advocates for and serves people wit­­h intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, cerebral palsy and other diagnoses. The Arc has a network of over 650 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with I/DD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes and without regard to diagnosis.

The Arc Joins Effort Calling on Department of Education to Keep Guidance on Treating All Students Fairly, including Students with Disabilities

The Arc has joined more than 140 national, state, and local organizations, led by The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, in a letter calling on the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to keep in place school discipline guidance.  This guidance merely clarifies that the ED expects that schools and districts are treating all children fairly and provides practical tools and guidelines for educators to create safe, supportive, and welcoming environments for all students.

In 2014, the federal guidance was issued with documents that provide important information and support for educators who want to create safer and more welcoming schools and important cautions for schools where problems of unequal treatment are not being addressed. The Arc and the organizations signing this letter maintain that rescinding the guidance would send the opposite message: that the ED does not care that schools are discriminating against children of color by disproportionately removing them from school and that ED does not see itself as having a role in helping educators create and maintain safe schools that afford all students equal educational opportunities.

“We know that suspensions and expulsions have been used for far too long and too often in our schools and are used disproportionately against children of color and children with disabilities. This federal guidance helps to stop this trend, and rescinding it would harm the progress we have to make to live up to our commitment to a free and appropriate public education for minority students with disabilities,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc.

My evolving relationship with my sister with Angelman syndrome

By Amberley Romo

It’s now been almost five years since I first wrote about future planning. I was 22, and living in Washington, DC — 1,300 miles away from my family in Dallas.

At the time, my sister Caroline was 18. We were both entering new phases of our lives. I was fresh out of college, and she had just reached legal adulthood. (Her birthday milestones honestly were always more striking to me than my own). Caroline was born with a rare neuro-genetic disorder called Angelman syndrome. The prevalence of AS is estimated to be somewhere between 1/12,000 and 1/24,000.

I was in third grade when we finally discovered my sister’s diagnosis. I know, because my mom tells the story of how I went to school, and told my third grade teacher that I was worried about how I would take care of Caroline when something happened to our parents.

Years later, when my parents took our family out to dinner to celebrate my high school graduation, I have a perfect memory of sitting at the table feeling deeply guilty, and near tears. I was soon to move to DC for college. At the table, my parents expressed how important they thought it was that I go. When I later moved away to college, it was deeply unsettling for about a semester. Everything I had to do every day suddenly only revolved around, well, me.

The years passed, and I thrived in DC. I love that city. It’s my home away from home. But I felt those tugs. Sometimes the feeling was quiet, sometimes it was loud; but it was there. Feeling too far away, feeling too selfish. Feeling the desire to be a present fixture in the lives of my family members — to be a more active part of Caroline’s care network.

I’m now almost 28; she is almost 24. I lived in DC for eight years. Two years ago, I moved back to Texas. For one of those years, I lived in Dallas. It’s hard to explain the internal battle between feelings of obligation and not knowing with any certainty what you really want, personally. But you know what I’m talking about. It’s part of the human experience. It has nothing specifically to do with having a sibling with disabilities. It’s a universal experience. This is just a particularly salient part of how I experience this struggle. None of us can know if we’re making the right choices; We just do what we can, and keep moving forward.

What I can say with certainty is that living in closer proximity to my sister deepened our connection considerably. When living further away, I could still say hi to her on the phone. (Or like when she somehow figured out how to FaceTime with me while I was at work and she was in class).

Amberley and Caroline

But living back home, she would spend the night over at my apartment. We’d make dinner, and watch The Great British Baking Show. She loves to watch my pet rabbits run around. I got back in sync with her nonverbal cues, and she got back in sync with my micro-movements. (I swear to you she can tell when you’ve had a thought, and haven’t even said anything yet — her emotional intelligence is through the roof). It’s these subtleties that were difficult — near impossible, even — to maintain, in a long-distance relationship with her.

Amberley and Caroline

There’s no right decision for me, or for other siblings. But I can say for certain that I don’t regret moving back to be closer.

I was reflecting on these past ten years just recently; I was doing some work in a coffee shop, and a family came in. A mom, dad, older sister and younger brother. The younger brother had Down syndrome. They were all hanging his art on the coffee shop wall. As I understand it, the sister had independently reached out to the coffee shop about featuring her brother’s work, and the other artist currently featured on the wall had volunteered to share space. As I chatted with them, and watched as they arranged his art, I had an odd sense of deja vu. Reflecting on being the sister’s age, and pondering college. (She appeared to perhaps be in high school). These thoughts can feel so isolating, but they are such a deeply shared experience. Meeting them by happenstance reminded me of that.

Growing up feels like continuously uncovering that behind the tapestry is a mess of loose ends. From chaos, comes order (or at least hindsight). When I was younger, I worried about Caroline’s future with a general sense of anxiety. Now that I’m older, I worry about increasingly complicated specifics. We have been having active planning conversations for years, and on some level, it grinds away in the back of my brain nonstop. Despite working so proactively, we still don’t feel close to having an answer, or feeling prepared.

I hope that for anyone reading this, these thoughts inspire thoughtfulness, not paralysis. I accept that we can’t ever know anything for certain. It can be overwhelming, but I fervently hope that other siblings and families don’t shy away from these conversations.

Amberley Romo is a software developer in Austin, Texas. She is part of a project to build a free, open-source, web-based communication app.

The Arc on Bipartisan, Two Year Budget Deal

The Arc is pleased that Congress was able to negotiate a bipartisan budget deal last week.  The deal provides welcome temporary relief for the non-defense discretionary part of the budget that funds a range of programs – such as education, housing, and employment – that help make community living possible for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  Further, by raising the debt ceiling though March of 2019, it provides a measure of stability that will allow Congress time to continue to develop appropriations legislation to keep the federal government operating.  However, despite these and many other beneficial provisions, The Arc remains concerned about future efforts to make program cuts in order to deal with the increased spending authorized in the deal and reduced revenue from the tax law enacted in December.

The Arc Responds to President Trump’s Health Care Executive Order “Extremely dangerous for people with disabilities”

Washington, DC – The Arc released the following statement in response to President Trump’s Executive Order Promoting Healthcare Choice and Competition Across the United States

“President Trump, through the new Executive Order “Promoting Healthcare Choice and Competition Across the United States”, is urging his Administration to find ways to circumvent critical protections of the Affordable Care Act including pre-existing condition protections and requirements for adequate health benefits. If the agencies implement this order, it would undermine the health insurance marketplace and drive up the costs of premiums for people with chronic illnesses and disabilities. This is extremely dangerous for people with disabilities who have relied on the Affordable Care Act to receive quality and affordable health care. The Arc vehemently opposes health care policies, like this, that are detrimental to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”  said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

Attack on SSI: House Approves Cutting Off Basic Income for Adults with Disabilities and Seniors

Washington, DC – Today, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 244 to 171 to revive a failed former policy that cuts off Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for certain people with disabilities and seniors. The legislation targets SSI recipients with outstanding arrest warrants for alleged felonies or alleged violations of probation or parole. Federal law already prohibits payment of SSI benefits to people fleeing from law enforcement to avoid prosecution or imprisonment, and the Social Security Administration has a process in place to notify law enforcement of the whereabouts of such individuals. The original policy ended due to class action litigation.

“This bill is unjust, cruel, and unnecessary, and shows total disregard for the day to day economic struggles of most SSI beneficiaries. SSI benefits average $18 per day and are the only personal income for nearly three in five beneficiaries. Cutting off these modest SSI benefits will cause significant hardship and will only make it more difficult for people to resolve old, outstanding arrest warrants. The Senate should reject this tried and failed approach,” said T.J. Sutcliffe, Director, Income and Housing Policy.

Based on experience with the former policy, H.R. 2792 would not help law enforcement to secure arrests, but instead would target people whose cases are inactive and whom law enforcement is not pursuing. Most of the warrants in question are decades old and include warrants routinely issued when a person was unable to pay a fine or court fee, or a probation supervision fee. Many people are not even aware that a warrant was issued for them, as warrants are often not served on the individual. Some people will be swept up because of mistaken identity, or paperwork errors, which can take months or even years to resolve. Many people will face barriers to clearing their records based on the nature of their disabilities or their current circumstances, for example, an individual with Alzheimer’s in a nursing home.

Resolving an old arrest warrant can often involve significant time and expense, such as when a person has moved and lives far from the jurisdiction that issued, but never pursued, a decades-old warrant. Anecdotally, a very high percentage of people affected by the former policy were people with mental impairments, including people with intellectual disability.

The proposal uses savings from cuts to SSI under H.R. 2792 to pay for legislation to reauthorize the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program.

“Home visiting helps to improve maternal and child health and increases access to screening and early intervention for children with disabilities. Reauthorization of this valuable program should not be paid for by cutting off SSI for people with disabilities, seniors, and their families,” said Sutcliffe.

As highlighted in a fact sheet by the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, here are two stories of people harmed by Social Security’s former failed policy: Rosa Martinez, the lead plaintiff in one of several class action law suits brought against the policy, and a juvenile survivor of childhood abuse:

  • Mistaken Identity: Rosa Martinez, the lead plaintiff in Martinez v. Astruewas, in 2008, a 52-year old woman who received notice from SSA that she was losing her disability benefits because of a 1980 arrest warrant for a drug offense in Miami, FL. Ms. Martinez had never been to Miami, never been arrested, never used illegal drugs, and is eight inches shorter than the person identified in the warrant. Despite an obvious case of mistaken identity, Ms. Martinez was left without her sole source of income while she cleared up the error on her own, without any help from SSA. It was only after filing a lawsuit that Ms. Martinez was able to receive her benefits.
  • Juvenile Survivor of Childhood Abuse: A young man in California with intellectual disability and other mental impairments had his SSI benefits stopped because of an Ohio warrant issued when he was 12 years old and running away to escape an abusive stepfather. The 4’7” tall, 85-pound boy was charged with assault for kicking a staff member at the detention center where he was being held until his mother could pick him up. Many years later, he had no recollection of the incident.

More stories of people harmed by SSA’s former failed policy are available from Justice in Aging.

 

The Arc advocates for and serves people wit­­h intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, cerebral palsy and other diagnoses. The Arc has a network of over 650 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with I/DD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes and without regard to diagnosis.

URGENT- 3 Day Medicaid STILL Matters Campaign-Get Your Story on the Record

The Senate is set to vote next week on the Graham-Cassidy bill, this is the most dangerous of the health care proposals that have been before Congress and it is on the fast track. Like previous proposals, this bill includes the per capita caps on the Medicaid program that would end Medicaid as we know it with a trillion dollar cut over two decades, and allows states to weaken consumer insurance protections such as the ban on pre-existing condition exclusion and the essential health benefit requirement.

The latest revisions to the bill INCLUDES the devastating cuts to the Medicaid programs that over 10 million people with disabilities rely on to live and work in their communities. The process that the Senate has been using since January to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act has been out of regular order, with no committee meetings, public input or hearings. In a pathetic attempt to make an effort, the Senate Finance Committee has scheduled ONE hearing on Monday, September 25, 2017, details are here.

HERE IS WHAT YOU CAN DO:

Because not everyone will be able to attend the hearing to make their voices heard, The Arc of the United States will be collecting your stories to submit on Monday. The time is now to take action and tell your Senators what these devastating cuts will mean to you and your family and why MEDICAID MATTERS. Take a few moments before 9 AM SUNDAY EST to tell your Medicaid story HERE. We will hand deliver all the printed messages to the Senate Finance Committee on Monday, and send them directly to your Senators. So please act NOW, e-mails must be received by 9 AM EST on Sunday to be printed.

We want to show strong support for Medicaid from all over the nation, and get your story on the record. After you submit your story be sure to take action and contact your Senators to tell them to vote no on the Graham-Cassidy bill. If you have any questions please contact Nicole Jorwic at The Arc of United States: jorwic@thearc.org

The Arc Responds to Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson Health Care Proposal

Architects of this bill are still ignoring the pleas of their constituents with disabilities

Today, U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Dean Heller (R-NV), Ron Johnson (R-WI) and former US Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) unveiled the latest attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The Arc released the following statement in response:

“While this piece of legislation has a new title and makes new promises, it is more of the same threats to Medicaid and those who rely on it for a life in the community. The Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson proposal cuts and caps the Medicaid program. The loss of federal funding is a serious threat to people with disabilities and their families who rely on Medicaid for community based supports.

“Many of the provisions in this legislation are the same or worse than what we encountered earlier this year, which shows that the architects of this bill are still ignoring the pleas of their constituents with disabilities. The talking points sugar coat it, but the reality is simple – under this proposal less money would be available despite the fact the needs of people who rely on Medicaid have not decreased.  The Arc remains staunchly opposed to legislation that includes per capita caps or block granting of Medicaid. We need Members of Congress to find a solution that actually takes into consideration the needs of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” said Peter Berns, CEO of the The Arc.